(Opinion) Women entrepreneurs on the rise, but hurdles remain
Unequal access to capital limits their ability to develop a business
The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report states it will take another 132 years to reach gender parity. However, there have been noticeable advances in the United States, and more specifically in New Hampshire.
The Granite State has the second-highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the country, with 240 women-owned businesses for every 1,000 women residents, according to a 2021 report by the Kauffman Foundation. This goes hand in hand with some of the trends I’ve been observing in the business space: Women are taking a step up and advocating for policies and programs that support their presence in the workforce, such as good family leave policies, equal pay and more work-life flexibility.
In the entrepreneurship realm and at the Regional Economic Development Center (REDC), we’ve seen a significant increase in women coming forward with new business ideas in the last decade than we had prior to that. And we’ve also seen the community grow and build networks of mentorship, support and collaboration. Today, there are many organizations in New Hampshire supporting women entrepreneurs, including the Women’s Business Alliance, the NH Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Business Network, NH Center for Women & Enterprise, the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network, along with several others.
Nonetheless, women still face significant challenges when developing their own businesses, mainly relating to accessing funding and capital. This happens for various reasons, from unconscious biases to dated stereotypes about women’s capacity to lead, this disproportionately impacts women from historically underserved backgrounds, who face additional layers of exclusion from traditional lending.
Moreover, women are paid less than their male counterparts, as shown by the 18 percent gender pay gap in New Hampshire — where women earn 82 cents for each dollar a man makes — which impacts creditworthiness and other factors taken into account in traditional lending. Alternative financing options, such as those offered by REDC, seek to close the gaps in access to resources. And the large proportion of women-owned businesses in our portfolio shows that we’re still far from being a state with equal opportunities but that we are working hard to serve this marginalized market.
Another challenge women face is balancing work and family responsibilities, as unpaid household work still predominantly falls to women. For a more equitable entrepreneurship scene, women not only need a fairer distribution of household responsibilities, but they also need access to affordable child care and other resources that can help them share the load and have time to dedicate to their careers.
Furthermore, in New Hampshire and all around the world, we know that women have been more affected by the pandemic than men. These negative impacts manifested as job loss or having hours reduced, as well as increased caregiving responsibilities for children and other family members. Business owners also faced more financial insecurity and uncertainty and may have had to close or operate at reduced capacity.
As a society, it is now on us to ensure that all women entrepreneurs have the resources and support they need to succeed. Only by addressing the challenges women face in business can New Hampshire continue to build on its strong tradition of small business ownership and entrepreneurship. It’s imperative that we increase access to capital, mentorship and networking opportunities, as well as raise awareness of the contributions that women entrepreneurs are making to the state’s economy if we are to create a more equitable environment for women entrepreneurs in our state.
Laurel Adams is president of the Regional Economic Development Center, Raymond.